Building Bridges, Not Walls

22 Jan

As President Trump is sworn in, thousands of people are protesting by dropping banners all over the world to spread the message that we need to build bridges, not walls. Below I share a little abou…

Source: Building Bridges, Not Walls

Live: Liverpool Psychfest 2015

8 Nov

With bands coming from as far away as Chile to the South and Finland to the North, Liverpool International Festival of Psychadelia is a broad church, with an incredibly reputation. And rightly so, because when the faithful congregation assembles in the motorik metropoliz that is Liverpool, the differences are celebrated. There are so many different approaches to that word ‘psychedelia’, and it’s what makes the festival unique and brilliant. That and the incredibly friendly crowd.

It’s also worth acknowledging that the few things we moaned about last year (not enough outdoor seating, toilets or food/hot drink options, and a rubbish way of dealing with Furnace getting full) are all totally nailed this year – nice work guys!



I’m glad we get on site in time to catch The Feeling of Love, who pair fuzz and drone with melody and sexy French vocals, even if visually they’re a bit lacking.

The same can’t be said for LA’s Dengue Fever, who channel Cambodian pop and psych rock through Cambodian-born frontwoman Chhom Nimol and towering bass player Senon Williams respectively. Their hybrid mix is a hit, it’s just a shame they aren’t playing a bit later in the day when they might have been met by the dancing their music deserves.

More dancing please!

More dancing please!

Chile’s Chicos Nazca are a really interesting proposition on YouTube, but live it doesn’t quite translate, or rather, it doesn’t quite take off in the way you hope it might.

One of the stars of the weekend, Jane Weaver, plays a special re-score to  70’s anime film Belladonna over in new venue District, and it’s bewitchingly good. Beautiful even. Appetite well and truly whetted for her main performance the next day.

The other star of the weekend is, of course, Anton Newcombe. His latest project, with gravel-mouthed vocalist Tess Parks, draws a big crowd but the set is, even by his standards, just a little too laconic and predictable. It chugs along, basically, without really hitting the heights. Still, even when Anton is just treading water, it’s still pretty great.

I’m excited about the prospect of Blanck Mass – it’s as close as we’re gonna get to Fuck Buttons after all – but something doesn’t quite gel. It might be the booming sound system, which is struggling to cope with the relentless but tuneless fodder Ben Power is feeding it.

Luckily, Etienne Jaumet – aka one half of Zombie Zombie, so let’s just call him Zombie – hasn’t forgotten to bring the tunes. He delivers a proper Friday night set from his assorted array of vintage analogue equipment. Here’s a man who looks like he’s having fun, and so are we! In fact, he’s probably tonight’s happiest Frenchman in Liverpool.

Factory Floor bring Friday’s live music to a close in seismic waves of undulating, pulsating sound, and it’s a joy to witness. Whereas Blanck Mass sounded like being bludgeoned by a blunt instrument, these guys sound sleek and sharp, cutting you cleanly like a surgical incision. It’s kinky stuff alright.

Honourable Friday night mentions also go to Graham Massey’s Toolshed, for bringing a little bit of anarchy (and amazing costumes) into the world of free jazz, R Seiliog for being weird (but not as brilliantly weird as this video), and Karen Gwyer for absolutely rocking out on her last song and getting the sometimes lead-footed crowd moving.


After a decent night’s kip in our Psychdorm (apart from when, in the middle of the night, our neighbouring space cadets find a stranger in one of their beds and turf them out using language that leaves no room for ambiguity) it’s back for Day Two, starting gently with the quitely magical Flowers of Hell.

It’s a small crowd who witness their blissful set mixing Spiritualized-style drone with strings and a beautiful female voice. At one point frontman Greg Jarvis moves from behind his keyboards to conduct the band; a beautiful moment but maybe you had to be there…

Death and Vanilla take things easy too with their radiophonic-workshop inspired dreampop, then things step up a notch with The Callas. Last time I saw them in their native Athens a couple of years back they rocked the joint, but they’ve developed further and tonight give a snarling, taught performance. Surprisingly good.

Her star is definitely in the ascendancy, and it’s a packed Furnace that greets Jane Weaver like an old friend. There’s nothing that revolutionary to what she does, but it just sounds perfect, kind of like a psychedelic dream – a dream where you’re sitting on a cloud in heaven watching your dream band play celestial music while being fed grapes by dangerously attractive angels. Perfect floaty music, which well and truly sets the stage for Spiritualized.

There is one more star on the bill tonight though, and we’re not talking about Jason Pierce (although what I saw of Spiritualized’s set was fantastic) or that fella from Hookworms either…

Step forward Bernard Fevre, aka Black Devil Disco Club. Here’s a man who was releasing electronic disco records while I was but a twinkle in the milkman’s eye. Tonight he’s on fine form, and is possibly the happiest Frenchman in all of Liverpool (step aside Monsieur Jaumet!)

What’s more, he does all those “do-do-do-dooo-dooo-dooo” vocals live, which, for a fanboy such as myself, is a thrill to witness (you may have to trust me on this one). It’s also good to see he’s not been resting on his well-deserved laurels, with lots of newer material that is more techno-y, and very good indeed. What a dudeman.

There’s still time for a couple more surprises; in the form of Lumerians, who deliver the kind of spooky, dark and dangerous psychedelic swirl we’ve come to see, and K-X-P, who go one step further and add massive techno beats and scary costumes to the mix, sending us home well and truly psyched.

Before we head off into the night though, there’s just time to dance to a reliably heavy selection from DJ Cherrystones, who finishes us off in fine style, so to speak.

Nice one Pzykefest (and we never even mentioned the cool art installations, insane short films and animations, the ever-excellent Piccadilly Records shop or the uber-cool live projections). Same time next year then?

Psychfest ’15 by Damn You, Curfew! on Mixcloud

Psychmix tracklisting:

  1. Drinks: Hermits on Holiday
  2. Stanley Brinks & The Wave Pictures: Brighton
  3. Feeling of Love: Funk Police
  4. La Femme: Packshot
  5. The Callas: East Beat
  6. Etienne Jaumet: Stuck in the Shadow of Your Love
  7. K-X-P: History of Techno (part 4)
  8. CAR: Glock’d
  9. Shocking Pinks: Cutout (Expanding Head Band version)
  10. Joachim Witt: Tri Tra Trulalala
  11. Goat: It’s Time For Fun
  12. Lumerians: The Bloom
  13. Jane Weaver: Arrows
  14. Flowers of Hell: ?
  15. Four Tet: Morning
  16. Metamono: Glue Shoes
  17. Blancmange: Holiday Camp
  18. Fuxa: ?
  19. Now: Innards
  20. Tess and Anton: Melleorist

PS. I also made a mammoth YouTube Playlist:


Green Man Festival, Brecon Beacons, August 2014

23 Aug

Who’s idea was it to start this thing on a Thursday then, egh? Even though my life’s not in (too much of) a mess, I take the National Express Green Man special to Wales, assuming that it will arrive in time for Pictish Trail.

This turns out to be wishful thinking; I only just make it in time for The Waterboys. Like most, I suspect, in this big Thursday evening crowd, I only know one Waterboys song – yes, that one – and when they play it the tent semi-erupts in sing-along, yet it’s apparent that there’s a lot more to these weathered troubadours than one catchy pop song. Veering from Residents-esque weirdness to Nick Cave style sleeze, they are far more interesting than expected, even if these diversions from their basic pub-rock blueprint don’t happen quite enough to make it truly memorable.

After a longer than planned walk around the valley on Friday morning (taking in Crickhowell village, Table Mountain and the beautiful Brecon and Monmothshire Canal en route), my first act of the day is James Yorkston in the Far Out tent. With lots of new material, played by a new band (and with a certain Johnny Pictish on backing vocals and, er, ‘vibes’), his set is like wearing in some new slippers after years with the same old pair – it lacks the comfort of days gone by, but is still unmistakably Jamesy and will be fine once we’ve worn the new songs in.

Next up, Toy take to the same tent and it feels like these guys haven’t really pushed on from when they played Field Day back in the day and Festival Number 6 a couple of summers ago. They’re good enough, but as long as both The Horrors and The Fat White Family are around, they don’t really need to exist. Too harsh?

Over in the Walled Garden, after not giving them a fair hearing at Howlin’ Fling, the full Adult Jazz experience is appreciated this time. While it’s never quite gonna be my thing, it’s pretty weird music, taking the laptop and falsetto vocals thing into interesting new places.

Francois and the Atlas Mountains follow. They’re more electronic than I’d expected but, beyond that, a bit of a blur if I’m honest… it was that stage in the evening.

Not so Teleman, who play something of a blinder as they headline this little stage, spewing out their Breakfast album all over us in triumphant fashion. Singer Tom Saunders has got a unique voice and, in Steam Train Girl, Mainline and 23 Floors Up, they have tunes that allow it to shine. Set closer Not In Control let the band show what they can do, and the audience, most of whom know every word, go nuts.

Expect even greater things from this band, who give the impression they are in total control. They also prove to be the perfect warm-up for the 2 Bears and Bill Brewster‘s fun-filled DJ antics in Far Out After Dark, for all those not put to sleep by Beirut…

Saturday brings the mighty Pooh Sticks to the Far Out tent, where a small but dedicated-ish crowd see these Swansea indie legends play what might well be their last gig. When you’re in your 40s and look like Frank Skinner, there’s only so long you can sing about being turned on by “young people”. Especially these days. It’s a joyful set, with songs like The World Is Turning On showing just what talented songwriters they were back in the day. And the kids (by which I mean actual kids), dancing with wild abandon, are absolutely loving it.

Women’s Hour are an altogether more serious proposition. Singer Fiona Burgess is the captivating focal point, with shades of Beth Gibbons in her mannerisms and style, but without Beth’s intensity and, while the songs – including a minimalist cover of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark – are interesting enough, they mainly just remind me how much I miss seeing The XX live.

Being uninteresting is not something you could throw at The Fat White Family. They’re the closest this festival comes to rock n roll, and they revel in their status as ‘band most likely to get their keks off’. While not exactly pushing the boundaries musically – they often seem to be conjuring the spirit of Jim Morrison – tracks like Touch the Leather do inject a bit of spunk into this otherwise placid event.

Over on the Mountain Stage, Sharon Van Etten shows why she’s been making such waves this past year, with a sublime set that shows you don’t need to strut around thwacking an electric guitar (a la Anna Calvi on Sunday) to be interesting.

As the sun goes down, the stage is set for The War on Drugs, whose widescreen sound is perfect for the moment. Under the Pressure sounds absurdly wondrous as it drifts around this natural amphitheatre. Sailing close to the middle of the road, they have that certain something – chemistry, tunes, a bloody good sound engineer – that lifts them above the morass and makes them pretty darn special.

But not as special as Jeffrey Lewis, who in the three songs of his set that I catch, manages to take in subjects including comic book artist Alan Moore (complete with illustrations), taking time to perfect something, and a rant about the Pussy Riot injustice and what corporate cocksuckers we’ve all become. To call him a maverick genius is to state the bleedin obvious.

After that, Slint‘s pre-post-rock post-rock sounds kinda serious in comparison, but they put on a skilful display of quiet-loud-quiet and demonstrate why everyone from Mogwai to Fuck Buttons is in musical debt to them.

Finally for Saturday, The Field gifts us with an incredible, undulating set of warm, hypnotic techno, where tracks bleed into each other and we can hardly tell when one ends and another begins but we don’t care because it all sounds so fucking amazing and we’re dancing, yeaahhh!

Sunday starts in understandably fragile fashion, with Vallevers and The Gentle Good providing the soundtrack as a couple of hundred people sit on blankets sheepishly nursing their first (ok, second) beer of the day, while the sun makes an equally tentative appearance.

Bill Callahan continues to be something of an enigma in his post-Smog, post-Joanna days, and his low-key set has a fair few disinterested people scuttling back to their tents for dinner. There’s certainly nothing here for a nine year old to latch on to. But, for the believers down the front, his songs remain a thing of wonder. Minimal, restrained but captivating; all built on that voice, mainly singing two words: “beer” …and “thank-you”.

By contrast, First Aid Kit have drawn one of the biggest crowds of the weekend and it’s not hard to see why. Two very pretty girls playing some often quite pretty songs. What they lack in depth and soul, they make up for in kookiness. Did someone say back-handed compliment?

For some real soul, here’s Stanley Brinks – one of the finds of the weekend. It turns out he used to be in Herman Dune and now plays with the Wave Pictures. In Orange Juice, they might have just penned one the best songs of the last year or so. As some wag shouts out “First Aid Kit suck balls” (instead of the actual lyric, “The radio sucks balls”) you suddenly realise that yes, it’s true, they totally do suck balls! Then, with French singer Freshard’s help, they play Tweet Tweet, our arms start swaying above us, and it becomes clear that I’ve fallen for them, big time.

Whilst elsewhere, many Green men and women are creaming themselves over the moderate charms of Neutral Milk Hotel, a tent full of slackers are rockin’ out to Kurt Vile – this millennia’s J Mascis – and, to penultimate song Freight Train, properly freakin’ out.

It’s a fine way to end the weekend, before the Green Man goes up in flames for another year and we go home that little bit happier than when we arrived. Yep, we had a real good time together.

Live: Howlin Fling! Isle of Eigg, Scotland, July 2014

27 Jul

Organising a full-on music festival on a Hebridean Island that’s five hours on the train from Glasgow and has a population of around 100 is no mean feat, but that’s the allure of Eigg, an island so beautiful I reckon people would swim to if it they had to.

It’s also down to the persuasive pulling power of Johnny Lynch, the man behind the event, and the new Lost Maps record label, for which the festival is something of a showcase. There’s barely a band all weekend who don’t take time to thank him for being such a top guy, and quite right too. That the festival is happening at all feels like a minor miracle.

We arrive a couple of days before the event to sample the island’s main draws – the beautiful beach at Singing Sands, bracing swims, and conquering the Sgurr, which looms large over the island, giving it an other-worldly, majestic crown.

Before the hordes (ok, 400 punters) arrive, we have the island almost to ourselves. Beth Orton and hubby Sam Amidon are hanging out at the cafe with their two kids, and local musicians Gabe McVarish and Griogair Labhruaidh play an impromptu little set on benches overlooking waters where earlier in the day a pod of dolphins had swam nonchalantly by. By night, we drink whisky and sing badly around the camp fire. Yes, this is a magical place.

Friday night brings the music proper, and it starts in low key but melodic style, with Alexis Taylor playing a set of mostly downbeat numbers from his new record Await Barbarians, as well as We Were Made in the Dark from the Hot Chip back catalogue. There’s one epic disco-tinged track that has the Ceilidh hall bopping for the first of many times over the weekend.

Over in the tent next door, it’s a Beth OrtonSam Amidon double act, with both artists appearing as guests in each other’s set. Beth is undoubtedly the star though, playing a mix of strong new songs (Call Me the Breeze) and classics mainly drawn from her soon to be re-issued Central Reservation record. She’s on fine form, with that seemingly fragile yet fierce voice (especially on Feel to Believe) and self-deprecating banter still present. She screws up her face when she hits a bum note and then afterwards apologises for being a bit rusty. Dreamboat Amidon, meanwhile, is prone to some strange bouts of in-song humour (including an odd tribute to a recently deceased jazz musician) but when he plays it straight he’s beguiling.

Ex-Beta Bander Steve Mason takes to the stage around midnight for a set which is heavy on big hitters (Boys Outside, Lost & Found, Am I Just A Man) and is massively entertaining – the first raucous act of the weekend.

After that we hot-foot back to the Ceilidh Hall for Randolph’s Leap – who sound a bit like Sweet Baboo on ace new album Clumsy Knot but live remind you of a youthful Belle and Sebastian. These guys have wit (sample lyric: “You said he’s a barrister actually, I said does that mean he makes coffee?”), charm and songs to get people dancing – a total joy and perhaps the act with biggest crossover appeal on the Lost Maps roster. I Can’t Dance to this Music Any More is a Scottish indiepop classic in waiting.

Last up for Friday (a need for sleep deprives me of the day’s last two acts) are Golden Teacher, an act affiliated with Glasgow’s mighty Optimo label, and not surprisingly, given the label’s interest in all things heavy, techno and/or with a weird, psych-hypnotic undercurrent. These guys give polyrhythmic a new time signature, and by the end have completely pulverised the tent’s dazed and slightly confused occupants (including Beth Orton).


Saturday has an epic 13 hours of music programmed. I arrive just in time to see the tail end of Eagleowl‘s bouncy post-rock, which ends with a human pyramid. Of course it does. I was gonna give Johnnie Common a wide berth after being described by Johnny’s surreal programme notes as ‘Dunkeld’s answer to Scatman’ but actually they’re great. And nothing like Scatman.

Irish dreamboat (they’re everywhere this weekend!) Seamus Fogarty brings a dose of morose humour and lovely acoustic songs, while Gulp‘s brand of Welsh pysch-pop whimsy is very enjoyable and just a tad under-appreciated by a slightly smaller audience than normal. Must have been dinner time. I only catch a wee bit of Adult Jazz and it is, well, a bit jazzy for these ears.

Rozi Plain, familiar to anyone who follows James Yorkston or the old Fence Collective, is chirpy and cute as ever, with her ace single Humans the highlight.

Next up is Jens Lekman, one of the true stars of the festival. His sincerity, storytelling, crystal clear voice and dry wit (occasionally reminiscent of that old curmudgeon, Stephen Merritt) are a delight, as are his between song intros that essentially use the same words as the songs themselves. Just when you think he can’t surpass a song called What Would Jens Do, he ditches the guitar and goes all Europop on our ass, and he has the whole tent jumping and beaming. A total joy. He also gives everyone in the crowd a small memento – an envelope containing a small piece of lavender – what a cutey.

Metta provide some more traditional sounds in the Ceilidh hall and have the room stomping, while Boxed In get the same room dancing with their odd mix of krautrock grooves and piano house melodies. The total Dude bass player from Steve Mason’s band is seen nodding from the sidelines appreciatively.

In between, we have the small matter of Pictish Trail, taking time out of introducing and thanking every band and being basically omnipresent throughout. He’s given a well-deserved hero’s welcome. Despite the loveliness of the music, tiredness is creeping in again, so it’s a welcome relief when Johnny raids his Silver Columns piggy bank for a couple of boingy electropop numbers that wake us all up.

Two more acts do it for me on Saturday night before I have to call it a day. The Phantom Band mix Mogwai-esque post rock with Errors and maybe British Sea Power to give a brand of rocky post-rock that you can dance to, while whippersnappers Kid Canaveral have the room dancing as I navigate the pitch-black rainy road back to the tent. As I put in the ear-plugs and turn in for the night, I think I can actually feel the bass vibrating through the ground as Operator smashes it a kilometer away with his immense laptop techno.

A marathon, not a sprint, then, and it’s not over yet…

Sunday sees the mighty Itchy do his crazy performance-art=music thing and it’s Fun with a capital F. The capacity crowd absolutely LOVE Itchy, calling him back for an encore, which is a little inconvenient as his final song involves dismantling all his equipment and firing a golf ball into a steel drum.

Itchy’s partner, the always-smiling Rachael Dadd, plays gentle folk pop which seems normal by comparison, but the lyrical inventiveness and arrangement of tracks like Make a Sentence shouldn’t be under-estimated.

The weekend is almost drawing to a close, but not before Welsh indie kids Seazoo have won over the tent. There’s also time for one last jig in the Ceilidh hall as local lads Gabe McVarish and Griogair Labhruaidh give us some fine tunes for stomping (at one point dividing the hall into the stompers and the clappers) and there’s even a bit of Gaelic rapping.

But the night isn’t over yet. There’s the unfinished business of RM Hubbert, who missed the boat earlier (literally) so makes a late appearance. His brand of mordant humour makes Aidan Moffat seem jovial, but there’s similar genius at work here.

And that’s almost it. It’s up to DJ Andy Wake from The Phantom Band to segue gracefully from RM Hubbert to dancefloor dynamite, which he does skilfully by way of The Beta Band, appropriately enough. Then it’s a few more hours of good time dancing and drinking into the wee small hours. Almost, in fact, until the dawn of another beautiful day on Eigg.

It’s been an egalitarian festival as special as the island and, although everyone will go home happy and with fond memories, there’s a nagging sense of sadness that our little community we’ve created this weekend will be gone once the sun comes up. I’ll hooooowwl to that.

Review: Riots Not Diets

7 Apr

Power Lunches, Sat 6 April 2013

Invited to this event at the last minute without knowing what I was signing up to, but made curious by the description ‘DIY/Queer/Riot Grrrl’, it turned out to be a fantastic night.

The first act i catch properly is Homosexual Death Drive. The name makes me fear I’m about to witness a hardcore punk act, but in fact they preface their set by draping half the audience in red ribbons. HDD are, it turns out, two rather wonderful women, singing songs about loving satan, buttholes, and not giving a shit, to a musical accompaniment that includes a looped bicycle pump. It’s weird, for sure, but strangely captivating, and, during the hushed audience hum-along at the end, affecting too.

Fulhast is the non-Allo Darlin half of Moustaches of Insanity doing his new solo thing, which turns out to be quite a lot like his old duo thing, only the guitars are turned up and more of the songs are about life after a painful break up (in short: it sucks). The backing track comes, as ever, from his trusty Gameboy. It’s raw, honest stuff, juxtaposed by the surly, adolescent Nintendo bleeps and beats.

Finally, Halo Halo, an act I’ve never heard of but by the end of their set could just be my new favourite band. They have a gorgeous, woozy sound, set off with occasional clattering drums and time changes. Musically, they’re somewhere on the spectrum between the crazy charms of Trash Kit and the ethereal grace of Electrelane, but come off sounding better than either. Yep, that good.

Promoters Riots Not Diets were, they revealed afterwards, nervous about putting on their first London show, but they needn’t have been. It was a fun evening with an eclectic line up and friendly atmosphere. Sold out, too.

The Carry on Rioting compilation album is out on Tuff Enuff records and is WELL worth a fiver.

Halo Halo are not on the comp, but live on the interweb here.

Review: Hand Picked

7 Apr

The Roundhouse, Friday 22 March 2013

First, a confession. Got held up in the pub after work and arrived at this gig a little late (just catching the last couple of tracks by East India Youth), and a little drunk. Therefore, the details are all a bit hazy…

What I do remember is that the stand out act of this Eat Your Own Ears showcase was Dark Bells.

Not really doing anything new, but pushing the Roundhouse sound-system to its limits with poundingly heavy riffs, drums and bass, they remind a little of those other Aussie rockers, Wolfmother, only with slightly less of a Led Zeppelin obsession.

Together with a cool projection show, they absolutely go for it and win over this mildly curious all-ages audience with their take on the Toy/Horrors sound.

Teleman, on record sounding convincing so far, perhaps need to do a bit more work on their live show. They are chirpy, cheeky chappies, perhaps a bit nervous, but don’t seem to be quite gelling as a unit. It might just be that the jerkiness is part of the show as it was for Franz Ferdinand when they first started out.

What they do do is get the audience on-side, particularly with the 6Music hit Cristina. If there was a clap-ometer (there isn’t), and it was a competition (it isn’t), they would be the winners by a country mile.

By the time NZCA/Lines take to the stage, a fair chunk of the audience has trailed off into the icy night, leaving a relatively sparsely populated, echoing room to witness an impressive, pummeling set, complete with melancholic synths and chunky bedroom beats.

Without knowing the songs it’s hard to draw much warmth or emotion from the set though, and it’s Teleman’s tunes that keep me cosey on the cold journey off into the night.

Preview: Hand-Picked

17 Mar

The Roundhouse, Friday 22 March 2013

In these difficult economic times, it’s getting expensive seeing bands. A beer alone can cost a fiver, then there’s the expensive ticket, the booking fee, the getting there… it all adds up.

Thank fuck, then, for this Hand-Picked night, where you get to see SIX up and coming bands for a fiver. And not in some shitty little toilet venue with a crap sound system in Camden, but The Roundhouse, no less… OK, still in Camden but hey, small sacrifices and all that.

While the idea of new bands on a big stage in a big venue might sound counter-intuitive, when it’s Eat Your Own Ears running tings you know it should be OK. These guys have, for better or worse, become the Capital’s live music taste-makers.

If you’re a band, and EYOE take you under their wing, you’ve pretty much made it (no wonder Sweet Baboo was looking so happy at his first EYOE-promoted gig last month…)

So who have they ‘hand-picked’ for this event?

NZA/Lines is a beguiling proposition, and one that I keep on missing at festivals. Essentially one man, Michael Lovett, and a load of electronic wizardry, he sounds a bit like fellow laptop-pop technician James Yuill, although perhaps more polished and less folky. He’s got material out on Lo Recordings, home of oddballs like The Chap, which should give some indication as to where he’s coming from.

There’s some big old hype surrounding Teleman, and it’s not too hard to see why. Recently signed to Moshi Moshi (although these days, who isn’t?), debut single Cristina has had some serious 6Music radio play and is as catchy as they come. These guys will likely be the main attraction on the night.

Dark Bells
are a new name to me but they sound as heavy and psychedelic as every other band with the word Bells in their name. That’s a good thing by the way. Possibly from Australia, it’s hard to say, there’s not much info about them. Sounding good here though.

Paradise deal in lush, uplifting melodies, underpinned by a 4-4 beat, sounding very much like New Order, but that’s absolutely no bad thing. Much rather you sound a bit like New Order than  The Brand New Heavies, egh?

They do a decent enough cover of Mazzy Star’s Blue Flower on the flip of their debut single, which tells you where they’re coming from, along with the Spiritualized-esque artwork. Definitely worth checking out.

East India Youth are one of those overly serious, drama-school acts with an electric piano. They come along every so often and people wet themselves, but Christ, it can be boring live. Unless you’ve got the presence and voice of Anthony Hegarty, forget it.

With song titles like Heaven, How Long, they remind me a bit of the took-himself-way-too-seriously Patrick Wolf. Nothing wrong with a bit of ambition though – maybe it will all make sense live.

Finally, FEWS are from Sweden and deal exclusively in dream-pop. Why and how these pesky Scandinavian types manage to do the genre better than us is anyone’s guess, but they just keep on churning them out…

So, six bands, five pounds*, do it now!

More info and ticket links at EYOE here.

*Make sure you avoid Seetickets, who are charging a £2.40 fee on a £5 ticket, the swines. Be smart and go for TicketsABC for a £5.50 ticket instead.

Live: Melody’s Echo Chamber

16 Mar

The Scala, Tue 5 March 2013

Releasing one of the sleeper hipster albums of 2012, Melody’s Echo Chamber arrive in London on something of a roll. The show is a last-minute sell out and there’s a lot of love in the room for Melody Prochet and her band.

After a warm-up DJ set from Stereolab’s Justin Spear (who, to my admiration, drops the overlooked Europop classic Banana Split by Lio), they launch straight into album opener I Follow You.

Melody stands smiling behind a bank of keyboards, coyly sharing those hushed Francophile tones with her new-found legion of (largely male) fans, along with the odd cheeky grin.  She doesn’t say much, but when she does it’s to express her surprise at the size of the crowd. All quite charming.

The subtle textures of the record are faithfully re-created by the able band; the fragile spareness of Bisou Magique in particular is an early highlight, with its simple keyboard refrain and vocals about… who knows, who cares?

Some Time Alone, Alone follows, and it’s on this track that the band, and Melody’s vocals in particular, sound most reminiscent of Broadcast and their gone-to-soon singer, Trish Keenan. It’s a sad reminder of what we lost.

As the set goes on, it builds momentum. Crystalized, as the name might suggest, is hazy and dreamlike, until it explodes into a cacophony of drums and guitar FX.

But they save their loudest material for the encore – an epic instrumental jam, complete with Melody donning a guitar for the first time – which is sadly just the wrong side of self-indulgent.

It’s set-padding to get to the magic hour mark, so we don’t all go home feeling short changed. If they’d stopped where the album stops, with Be Proud of Your Kids, I’d have still felt like I’d got my money’s worth. And my ears would have been tingling in a good way, not ringing in a bad way.

These guys are an enticing proposition though; Melody is the perfect indie-crush, their songs are ice cool yet pretty and sometimes even poignant, and they know exactly what they’re doing and where they’re surely headed.

Once they have a second album under their belt, they’ll be up there with the Beach Houses and Best Coasts of this world, only way more interesting.

Joe Downie

Live: Shhh Festival of Quiet Music

16 Mar

Heath Street Baptist Church, Sat 2 Feb 2013

The Shhhh festival has become a highlight of London’s winter gig calendar in recent years, with an always-interesting and varied line-up based, very loosely, around the concept of ‘quiet’ music. Although sometimes quite loud quiet music.

From fully amped-up post-rock act Fuzzy Lights blasting through the silence, to Dana Falconbury singing un-amplified in a room filled only by hushed awe, it’s produced some speshhh’l moments. But, whisper it, this year’s event doesn’t have quite the same magic.

For starters, it’s been downsized. Doubtless there’s a good reason for this; the economics of putting on this kind of music clearly don’t make anyone rich, and perhaps organisers The Local struggled to find a suitably big name headliner (no moonlighting members of Mogwai on the bill this year…) So although Heath Street Baptist Church is a lovely little venue, it’s tiny and bloody freezing! We miss Cecil Sharpe House, basically.

Eloui, over from Vienna, with her crazy red hair, plays an interesting, varied set. She’s thrilled to be here and, with her concoction of samplers and instruments, makes some pleasant music. A promising start.

Eloui with ukulele

Mattis & the Grand Trunk Road are next on upstairs and they too are easy on the ears. Nice harmonies and some sterling banging of the box, in place of their usual drums, creates a set that’s perhaps exactly what you’d expect to hear at a festival of quiet music.

Similarly, Robert Rotifer, from the band Rotifer, is a charming man and good musician, but there’s not an awful lot to recommend his acoustic set – he’s definitely better with the backing of a plugged-in band.

Thankfully, downstairs offers something a bit more lively; a guy called High Wolf. Though dull to actually watch, the music is pretty damn hypnotic. Kind of Peaking Lights but not quite as textured. His sound guy also turns it right up, so much so that I actually have to move away from the speakers because it’s too loud. Oh, the irony.

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The first act to really draw a crowd, and a bit of excitement, is one-man-band Ichi. Husband of Rachael Dadd, and an inventive musician in his own right, he’s also a natural entertainer. His set is built around the steel drum, but by the end this has been dismantled and turned into a different instrument entirely. The audience go (relatively) wild for his madcap antics – the first act of the day to really cut through.

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Richard Walters has the unenviable task of following Ichi and he struggles. Normally with acts on a Local bill I can see what Howard (the brains and musical taste behind it all) might see in them too, but with this guy, I’m drawing a blank I’m afraid. Perhaps he was just having an off day.

So it’s left to the girls to rescue things, and they do so, just. First up, Rachael Dadd, playing a cute little set showcasing her skills across piano, guitar and vocals. Nothing quite beats early-ish track Table (from The Moth in the Motor EP), but it’s all good.

To end the day, Kate Stables, aka This is the Kit, takes to the stage for her headline slot in the largely dark, chilly church. She’s on good form but, without band, the songs don’t live and breathe like we know they can.

She makes a joke about a review she received highlighting all the ‘woo woo woos’ in her lyrics; perhaps she shouldn’t have – once she’s said it, they do suddenly start to grate a little.

Not the vital event it has been in recent years, then, but still a great way to spend a cold Saturday in February, with tasty food, friendly people and some nice enough music – and all at a very reasonable price.

If we didn’t discover our new favourite quiet music heroes this time, hopefully there will be another chance next year…

Joe Downie

Live: Porto Primavera 2012

21 Jun

Tired of schleping on an over-priced, over-crowded train to an un-pretty corner of England for another helping of All Tomorrow’s Parties, this year I wanted to be a little more adventurous.

I wanted to sample a European festival, ideally in a city I’d not been to before, and with a strong line-up… Then along came the Porto edition of Primavera for 80 euros, and the deal was sealed. ATP were running a stage, and Porto looked amazing on paper, so it made perfect sense; luckily, three friends agreed.


The festival site, it turns out, is in a little park a couple of miles out of town, easily accessible on the Metro (and there’s a night bus to get you back). The two main stages are perfectly placed side by side at the bottom of a small hill, each forming its own natural amphitheatre. It makes moving from one stage to the other as easy as shuffling a couple of hundred yards from left to right… and then back again. There are ample bars and toilets, and (once you’ve got your wristband) no queues for anything. One day, this is how all festivals will be.

Thursday’s headliners, Suede, are amazing. It may be the excitement and anticipation, or the heady mix of Super Bock and Sangria I’ve sunk, but by the time they come on, I’m positively salivating. Ranging from obscure B-sides (The Killing of a Flashboy) to the bona-fide hits (We Are The Pigs, Trash, So Young, The Wild Ones), Suede deliver the goods. They even include the mighty Stay Together, a song I’ve not seem them play live before. Time has been kind to Brett, who leaps around like he’s still 19. Suede may be a heritage act now – the more recent material is pretty dire – but they’re good value for it.


The other acts on offer on Thursday are less exciting. Mercury Rev are the same bombastic, overblown proposition I remember from End of the Road festival, The Drums are fun in a retro, unchallenging kinda way, and The Rapture, playing after Suede, just about manage to keep me dancing, but by this stage tiredness has set in and we leave after they drop the still-brilliant House of Jealous Lovers mid-set, cowbells ringing in our ears.

Day two, blessed by golden sunshine, begins with local act We Trust, who have a lot of people singing along to the catchy, if slightly anodyne, Time (Better Not Stop). Yo La Tengo, a band I’ve not seen live before, are pleasant enough but perhaps rather anonymous. Unsurprisingly, it’s Rufus Wainwright who brings a sense of occasion and showmanship to proceedings. America and, especially, Hallelujah, as the sun sets, are both stunning.

The Flaming Lips (complete with creepy Cult of Wayne stage ensemble) are their usual ‘bonkers’ self, but it does feel like the joke’s wearing a bit thin and hiding the fact that Coyne hasn’t written a decent tune in years. We leave before the inevitable Do You Realise climax, played out on a thousand festival stages before tonight.

Elsewhere, Black Lips, who many, me included, had down as a bit of a joke band (signing to Vice’s record label probably didn’t help their cause), are a rock n roll revelation. Not only can they play, but they bring a massive amount of energy and fun to the stage, encouraging the sometimes too-cool-for-school crowd to loosen some joints and dance.

By contrast, Neon Indian and Beach House slow things right down. With NI it’s frustrating as they could be a great dance-y band (as they were as a two piece a few years back) but now, with the emphasis on the rockstar vocals, they are slightly dull. As for Beach House, they’re playing to a packed tent but, Zebra aside, they haven’t really got any songs and they’re so soporific they send me to sleep.

Thank fuck, then, for Thee Oh Sees, who blast onto the ATP stage at 2.30am and wake everyone up again. They’re brilliant as usual, challenging Black Lips for the title of most danceable band of the weekend.

Day three is the biggie… a line-up that sees Spiritualized, The Dirty Three and The XX play within hours of each other. It’s almost more than I can take.

The rain arrives for Spiritualized, which is fitting as I don’t think I’ve yet seen Jason sing ‘Lord, let it rain on me’ at a festival when it hasn’t been pelting it down. They are spectacular, of course, adding new twists to old tracks, and new material which stands up. Like Peel once said of The Fall, Spiritualized live are always different, always the same, but never less than brilliant.


The Afghan Whigs (visceral rock but suffering from poor sound) and St Etienne (clunky beats, sublime vocals) come and go before The Dirty Three arrive, and they are a revelation. I’m not sure if I was just Having a Moment, but I was definitely caught in the moment – eyes shut, a thousand thoughts flashing through my head, my life spinning before me, and then, suddenly, nothing – my mind focussed purely on the music and the beauty and depth and meaning of it all. There’s something about the way Warren plays the violin that totally captivates me tonight. Stunning stuff.

But there’s more to come. At 2am, The XX arrive to headline the main stage and it’s an incredible thing to behold. Three people, barely out of their teens, who two years ago were playing to a  handful of Hackney hipsters, now headline festivals as a matter of course.

Yet they are so utterly uncommercial and uncompromising, with their sparse sound and aesthetic, you do wonder how it’s happened. Why do so many people want to hear such an odd-sounding band? Why do this crowd shush each other at the start so they can hear properly?

I’m not sure I understand the reasons why – it might be because it feels sexy and dramatic – but it is wonderful to witness. There are momentary hooks, but they come and go so quickly that any attempts at clap-alongs or sing-alongs quickly dissipate. The new songs sound as good as the ‘old’ ones – fragile, spacious, full of pregnant pauses and vocal interplay. And at the centre of it all, Romy and Oliver, unassuming, humble and still – it seems – as amazed as I am that so many people want to listen to their music.

Contrast that with the much-worshipped Jeff Mangum, a guy so wrapped up in a sense of his own-importance that he singles out individuals during his performance to ask them to stop photographing him. Maybe that’s unfair (all those mobiles at gigs are indeed annoying), and he does invite people to sit on the stage with him (a nice gesture) but still, it seems to say something about where he’s coming from.

Playing on Sunday at the uber-cool Casa da Musica venue in central Porto (a field clearly isn’t good enough for him), I listen with an open mind, wanting to give him a chance, but instead he just confirms my worst suspicions. He is pompous, his songs are boring, and his over-wraught voice is one-dimensional and quickly grates. It’s a strange end to a fantastic weekend of music.

Joe Downie